Tuesday 22nd November is a big day of Worst in the World action as two of our basement dwellers are in action in the South Pacific.
It’s the first day of the Oceania zone World Cup Qualification first round group with 4 teams battling it out in Apia, Samoa, at the horrendously named J.S. Blatter Stadium.
The hosts, and their near neighbours and fellow Worst in the World, American Samoa take on Tonga, Cook Islands and each other in a four way tussle for the one qualifying place in the next round, to take place in Fiji in June next year.
That round will see the winner of this four way tete-a-tete joining the top 7 ranked Oceania teams at that stage.
American Samoa v. Tonga
First up is the perennial basement dweller American Samoa against Tonga, ranked only 2 places above them in the FIFA rankings in 201st.
In six previous meetings, since being FIFA affiliated, American Samoa have managed to come away with six defeats, the most recent being four years ago at the equivalent stage of qualification, which four years ago was also the South Pacific Games football tournament.
On that occasion, in front of a whopping 200 spectators, American Samoa went down 4-0. Heavy defeats has been the recent trend in meetings between these two, although the American Samoans have twice held Tonga to narrow 2-1 score lines in the past.
American Samoa come into this one with a new and highly regarded coach in Dutchman Thomas Rongen, formerly coach of the USA U-20’s team among other things.
If he can inspire American Samoa to anything other than a defeat in this tournament opener it will be a huge achievement. Another heavy defeat and the brittle confidence for the games ahead could be shattered.
Tonga, under their Australian coach Chris Williams opted out of the Pacific Games earlier in the year to concentrate on preparations for this qualifying group.
Samoa v. Cook Islands
The second match of the day, and second to involve a Worst in the World sees hosts Samoa take on the Cook Islands, a nation ranked in the giddy heights of the world’s top 200, at number 196.
That makes the Cook Islands clearly the highest ranked from this group of four, but with Samoa as hosts for the four team group this looks like being quite a closely fought encounter.
Samoa have only recently sunk to the foot of the rankings and will see this group as a good chance to make it through to the next round.
The sides have met four times before, and it has always been a close contest, with 2 wins for the Cook Islands, one for Samoa, and one draw. That draw was the most recent, with a 0-0 result in Auckland in May 2004.
Samoa, like Tonga, declined to take part in the Pacific Games this year to concentrate on World Cup preparations. Unlike Tonga, that actually involved playing some matches, with two defeats in a tour of Fiji in August perhaps not ideal preparation, although it was against better opposition that they will face in this group.
The Cook Islands, like American Samoa, have got themselves a higher than expected profile manager having secures the services of former New Zealand international Shane Rufer.
How will it all turn out?
Cook Islands are marginally higher ranked than the other three, and I expect them to be fighting for top spot along with hosts Samoa, who I’m sure will leave their Worst in the World position behind after the group is done.
Tonga will hope to cause a surprise or two along the way, while American Samoa will probably be happy with managing to avoid defeat in any one of the three matches – something they’ve never managed yet in their FIFA history.
Interestingly, on the American Samoa FA website there is a poll on who people think will win the tournament. It’s neck and neck between all four nations, American Samoa receiving a fair number of votes as group winners, so optimism for that particular World’s Worst is quite high.
Optimism for the hosts Samoa is more well placed however. If they are still worst in the world by the end of it I’ll eat my hat.